Seven Years' War

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The Seven Years' War (1754 and 17561763) pitted Great Britain, Prussia and Hanover against France, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony. Spain and Portugal were later drawn into the conflict, while a force from the neutral Netherlands was attacked in India.

The North American phase of this conflict is known in the United States of America as the French and Indian War. Many of the Indians (Native Americans/First Nations) sided with France although some did fight alongside the British. The name "Seven Years' War" is used in the United States to refer only to the European portions of the conflict (1756–1763), not the nine-year North American conflict or the Indian campaigns which lasted 15 years (including Pontiac's Rebellion).

The conflict in India is termed the 2nd Carnatic War while the fighting between Prussia and Austria is called the 3rd Silesian War.



The Seven Years' War may be viewed as a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession. During that conflict, King Frederick II of Prussia had gained the rich province of Silesia. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had only signed the peace Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in order to rebuild her military forces and to forge new alliances.

This she had done with remarkable success. The political map of Europe had been redrawn in a few years. Century old enemies France, Austria and Russia formed a single alliance against Prussia. Prussia had only the protection of Great Britain, which was given since the ruling dynasty saw its ancestral Hanoverian possession as being threatened by France. Great Britain's alliance with Prussia was a logical complement. The British already had the most formidable navy in Europe, Prussia had the most formidable land force on continental Europe and thus allowed Britannia to rule the seas, as well as exert some influence on mainland Europe. Furthermore, this allowed Britain to focus her soldiers towards her colonies.

The Austrian army had undergone an overhaul according to the Prussian system. Maria Theresa, whose knowledge of military affairs shamed many of her generals, had pressed relentlessly for reform. Her interest in the welfare of the soldiers had gained her their undivided respect.

The second cause for war was formed by the heated colonial struggle between Great Britain and France.

Start of the war

Fighting began in the Ohio Country in the Ohio River area of North America in 1754. The war spread to Europe on May 15,1756, when Great Britain declared war on France. Learning about the intentions of the coalition opposing him, Frederick determined to strike first. On August 29, his well prepared army crossed the frontier of Saxony.

European theatre

In the European theatre, Prussia was outnumbered, but not outclassed, by her opponents. Prussia was a small state, but as one historian has remarked, it was an army with a country, not the other way around.

At the start of the war, Frederick crossed the border of Saxony, one of the smaller German States in league with Austria. The Saxon and Austrian armies were unprepared, and at the Battle of Lobositz Frederick prevented the isolated Saxon army from being relieved by an Austrian army under General von Browne. However, Saxony had successfully delayed the Prussian campaign.

In the spring of 1757, Frederick again took the initiative by marching on Prague. After the bloody Battle of Prague the Prussians started to besiege the city, but had to lift the siege after Frederick's first defeat at the Battle of Kolin.

Things were looking very grim for Prussia at this time, with the Austrians mobilizing to attack Prussian-controlled soil and a French army under Soubise approaching from the west. In what Napoleon called "a masterpiece in maneuver and resolution", Frederick both thoroughly crushed the French at the Battle of Rossbach and the Austrians at the Battle of Leuthen. With these complete victories at hand, Frederick had once again established himself as Europe's finest general and his men as the world's finest soldiers.

Though Frederick invaded Austria in the spring of 1758, he failed to score an important victory. In the west, the French were beaten in the Battle of Rheinberg and the Battle of Krefeld (Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick).

In the east, at the Battle of Zorndorf in Prussia, a Prussian army of 35,000 men under Frederick fought to a standstill with a Russian army of 43,000 commanded by Count Fermor. The Russians withdrew from the field. In the undecided Battle of Tornow on September 25, a Swedish army repulsed six assaults by a Prussian army. On October 14, the Austrians surprised the main Prussian army at the Battle of Hochkirch. Frederick lost much of his artillery but retreated in good order.

1759 saw some severe Prussian defeats. At the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, the Russian Count Saltykov with 70,000 Russians defeated 26,000 Prussian commanded by General von Wedel. Though the Hanoverians defeated an army of 60,000 French at Minden, Frederick lost half his army in the Battle of Kunersdorf. In the Battle of Maxen, Austrian general Daun forced the surrender of an entire Prussian corps of 13,000 men.

1760 brought even more disaster to the Prussians. The Prussian general Heinrich August, Baron de la Motte Fouqu鼆ouque was defeated in the Battle of Landshut. The French captured Marburg, the Swedes part of Pomerania. The Hanoverians were victorious over the French at the Battle of Marburg, but the Austrians captured Glatz in Silesia. In the Battle of Liegnitz Frederick scored a victory despite being outnumbered three to one. The Russians under General Totleben and Austrians under General Lacy briefly occupied Berlin. The end of the year saw Frederick once more victorious in the Battle of Torgau.

1761 brought a new country into the war. Spain declared war on Great Britain on January 4. In the Battle of Villinghausen Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated a 92,000 man French army. The Russians captured more area in Pomerania, while the Austrians captured Schweidnitz.

Great Britain now threatened to withdraw her subsidies, and as the Prussian armies had dwindled to 60,000 men the end seemed very near. But a turn of fortune was already at hand. On 5 January 1762 the Tsarina died, and her Prussophile successor, Peter III, at once offered peace.

The final major battle between Prussia and Austria was the Battle of Freiberg, fought on 29 October 1762.

Colonial theatre

For North American events, see French and Indian War.

British battled French across India, North America, Europe, the Caribbean isles, the Philippines and coastal Africa. During the 1750s up to 1763, Britain gained enormous areas of land and influence at the expense of the French. Robert Clive ran the French from India, and General Wolfe defeated the French forces of General Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham leading in the following year to the surrender of Canada (New France) to the British.


The British-French hostilities were ended by the Treaty of Paris, which involved a complex series of land exchanges. France was given the choice of keeping either New France or its Caribbean island colony Guadeloupe, and chose the latter to retain one of its sources of sugar. This suited the British as well, as their own Caribbean islands already supplied ample sugar, but with the handover of New France they gained control of all lands in North America east of the Mississippi River. Spain lost control of Florida to Great Britain, but took control of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River from the French.

European boundaries were returned to their pre-war states, by the Treaty of Hubertusburg (February 1763). This meant that Prussia was confirmed in its possession of Silesia. Prussia had survived the combined assault of its numerous neighbours, each larger than itself. Prussia gained enormously in influence at the cost of the Holy Roman Empire. This influence marks the beginning of the modern German state, an event at least as influential as the colonial empire Britain had gained.

In retrospect, it is interesting to note how close the Prussians were to defeat. Had Prussia's enemies all invaded at the same time, it would have been very likely Prussia would be destroyed and the future of Europe would have drastically changed.

From a military point of view the battles are less interesting than the numerous marches and countermarches in which Frederick excelled. This warfare of mobility would later be admired by Napoleon Bonaparte.

See also

History, War, Military history, Frederick the Great, Bestuzhev-Ryumin, British military history, World War



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